Background: Empirical evaluations of sexually dimorphic expression of genes on the mammalian X-chromosome are needed to understand the evolutionary forces and the gene-regulatory mechanisms controlling this chromosome. We performed a large-scale sex-bias expression analysis of genes on the X-chromosome in six different somatic tissues from mouse.
Results: Our results show that the mouse X-chromosome is enriched with female-biased genes and depleted of male-biased genes. This suggests that feminisation as well as de-masculinisation of the X-chromosome has occurred in terms of gene expression in non-reproductive tissues. Several mechanisms may be responsible for the control of female-biased expression on chromosome X, and escape from X-inactivation is a main candidate. We confirmed escape in case of Tmem29 using RNA-FISH analysis. In addition, we identified novel female-biased non-coding transcripts located in the same female-biased cluster as the well-known coding X-inactivation escapee Kdm5c, likely transcribed from the transition-region between active and silenced domains. We also found that previously known escapees only partially explained the overrepresentation of female-biased X-genes, particularly for tissue-specific female-biased genes. Therefore, the gene set we have identified contains tissue-specific escapees and/or genes controlled by other sexually skewed regulatory mechanisms. Analysis of gene age showed that evolutionarily old X-genes (>100 myr, preceding the radiation of placental mammals) are more frequently female-biased than younger genes.
Conclusion: Altogether, our results have implications for understanding both gene regulation and gene evolution of mammalian X-chromosomes, and suggest that the final result in terms of the X-gene composition (masculinisation versus feminisation) is a compromise between different evolutionary forces acting on reproductive and somatic tissues.